Trip Report
South Buttress of Pingora and East Ridge of Wolf's Head Linkup
Sunday January 5, 2014 3:07pm
If you want a report with pictures, visit my website, since SuperTopo has deprecated displaying photos from off-site.

2012-08-22 - Wolf's Head.
2012-08-22 - Wolf's Head.
Credit: PellucidWombat

Coming from the Bay Area, the spectacular Cirque of the Towers, in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, is quite the drive. However, it is well worth the effort to get there. Since I spend most my my weekends in the high altitude, talus-strewn bouldery desert that is much of the High Sierra, the lush high alpine meadows of the Cirque, juxtaposed by these gorgeous monoliths, was a refreshing change of mountain scenery.

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2012-08-23 - Shark's Nose, Overhanging Tower, Wolf's Head, Bollinger Peak, Tiger Tower (all in shadow) and Pingora seen from the notch on War Bonnet.

2012-08-18 - SF to SLC

Thomas Bukowski and I spent 2 days driving from the Bay Area to the Big Sandy trailhead, breaking it up with an overnight stay in Salt Lake City, seeing my family along the way. The drive up to Reno went face, as I-80 is windy and scenic. Crossing Nevada . . . well there is a reason most of my prior drives across the state were done at night: there is nothing to miss! Things got interesting again once we hit the Utah border. It was very smokey from central Nevada up into the Cirque from all of the wildfires that year, so there wasn't much to see for much of the drive and hike.

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Bonneville Salt Flats tight turns. Which is the mirage here?

2012-08-19 - SLC to COT!
With only a slightly early start in Salt Lake City, we drove up to the trailhead in Wyoming.

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Welcome to Wyoming!

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Who says Evanston isn't diverse? Some interesting office tenants. This arrangement of neighbors could make for a good sitcom . . .

From there we backpacked 9 miles in to Cirque of the Towers for several days of spectacular climbing! The trail is very flat and mostly boring for most of the length, but the sudden steep elevation gain at the end still ensures that you earn your passage into the area.

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Hiking in from Big Sandy.

For the first two nights set up camp by Cirque Lake, below Wolfs Head and Pingora. We made good enough time on the trail that even with a midday departure, we arrived at the far end of the cirque with just enough daylight to set up camp, and enjoyed the standard trickle of '50 Classics' climbers returning late to camp (I got some similar night shots on Devil's Tower the year before :-P )

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Nighttime descent from Wolfs Head.

2012-08-20 - Pingora and Wolf's Head Linkup
While the East Ridge of Wolf's Head sounded like a great climb in and of itself, both Thomas and I were strong enough climbers that we knew it might be a bit short and anticlimactic if that was all that we climbed on our first day. To make things more interesting, we decided to start by climbing Pingora and linking it up with Wolf's Head.

It was hard to assess the clouds in the morning due to the heavy smoke, but Thomas and I set out to climb the K-Crack Variation of the South Buttress of Pingora while keeping an eye on the weather.

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Smokey sunrise from camp at Cirque Lake

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Shark's Nose

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Block Tower

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Overhanging Tower

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2012-08-23 - Pingora from P2 on the NE Face of War Bonnet.

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2012-08-21 - South Buttress of Pingora in the morning.

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2012-08-21 - Pingora S Buttress. The 5.8 K-Cracks are easily visible in this lighting.

Sources we had seen called the South Buttress grade III, but really, after scrambling up the lower pitch and linking some pitches with a little simul-climbing, we were on the summit in barely over an hour even with taking the harder variation. Definitely a grade II route, but a fun one at that! It is also one of the most popular routes in the Cirque, so start early. Despite an early start, taking the cl. 4+ approach, we barely beat the first party, approaching via the cl. 3 approach from lower in the Cirque.

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South Buttress of Pingora, lower pitches. Technically there were 6 or so pitches on the route but we linked them into 2 pitches with some soloing and simul-climbing.

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Thomas leading the K-Cracks (5.8) on the South Buttress of Pingora. He is taking the right variation, although you really could take any combination of the 4 different slanting crack branches.

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Following the K-Cracks (5.8) right variation on the South Buttress of Pingora. We got a booty PeeNut on this.

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Thomas having lunch on Pingora's sunbathing patio.

Once on the summit, as far as we could tell the clouds looked alright, so we continued on. Heading towards Tiger Tower, you don't take the standard descent rappels, and there was little information on exactly where to go. After some searching we found that from where Thomas is in the photo above, you go left, almost 180 degrees, and switchback/scramble a short ways down the south side of Pingora before finding an exposed cl. 3-4 ledge that takes you back around to the west side. From there is some cl. 4 scrambling to a lower ledge and the first of three short rappels to gain the notch beneath Tiger Tower. We got our ropes stuck on every rappel, so don't link them, and rappel with care.

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Wolf's Head from Pingora.

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West Face of Pingora from Tiger Tower. Rappelling this was a bit slow as the rapps were short and wandering, and our rope kept getting stuck.

From the notch it is a straightforward cl. 3-4 scramble up Tiger Tower. Descending the west side towards Wolfs Head there are two short steps with optional rappels, or you can do some cl. 5 downclimbing (I was lazy and rappelled, while Thomas downclimbed).

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Wolf's Head from Tiger Tower.

At the Tiger Tower-Wolfs Head notch, we could have descended the standard approach to Wolfs Head. We could see some clouds building through the smokey haze, but nothing that looked too bad for the time of day, so we continued on, with plans to link or simul many of the pitches on Wolfs Head. Doing this we kept the climb to a short grade III climb. Pitching out the entire climb would make your day much longer.

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2012-08-22 - Wolf's Head.

The first pitch has a fun 30' unprotectable catwalk on the spine of the ridge. It kind of reminded me of a fin on Matthes Crest, although this one was low enough angle that you can just walk across it. Just don't get vertigo! From there there the ridge gradually ramps up in steepness, so the climbing stays very easy.

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Knife edge ramp on P1 of Wolf's Head. P2 ascends the crack in the center over the top.

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Looking down P1 of the East Ridge of Wolf's Head.

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Climbers on the standard Pingora rappel descent. Mitchell peak is behind.

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Wolf's Head and Tiger Tower.

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P1 Belay and P2 beyond, which takes that juicy splitter straight up the center!

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Thomas leading P2.

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Following P2. This is a really nice crack, although the low angle made it very easy - a good introduction to crack climbing for novices.

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P3, nearing the First Tower.

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Shark's Nose and Overhanging Tower.

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First Tower barrier. Climb down left into the exposure on the south side and a passage will present itself.

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Looking down on the First Tower 5.6 step-across crux.

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Squeeze between the First Tower split to the north side.

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Piton Traverse (5.6 face), which is mostly protected by . . . pitons.

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P7 Hand traverse cracks. This part was pretty fun.

By now we were more than halfway along the ridge and the weather was finally starting to look iffy. Hrrmmm, well it is probably about as bad continuing forward here as retreating, so we picked up the pace and continued onward!

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Cave belay at the end of P7. Thomas got to hang out in here belaying when the hail started.

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Airy arm crack traverse of P8. It hailed on me midway through this pitch. As a follower, Thomas just walked the crack, but I think a lead climber would have trouble protecting the 20' traverse this way. The pitch ends behind the chockstones ahead.

P8 was by far the most exposed pitch. THe crack is continuously the mostly the size of a #4 Camalot, and being too timid to walk the offset edge, I just shoved both arms in the crack and traversed along hanging on them and sliding the cam as I went - worked well enough!

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Looking back on the exposed P8 arm traverse. Crack was mostly a #4 C4 size.

Thomas hurried along, concerned about the clouds and hail (as was I), but by the time he reached me, the little micro cell had passed and it began to clear again. Still, we could only see the clouds so well, so we kept up the pace.

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P9 class 4 ledges, with Bollinger Peak to the right.

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Summit of Wolf's Head.

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Looking back from P10.

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Looking toward Bollinger Peak. This could be an interesting traverse . . .

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Descending behind the ridge on the rappels.

One thing you don't want to overestimate about this climb is that it has many short, complex, and spread out rappels. All of that changing from climbing to rappelling to climbing, and getting your rope stuck, takes some time. On this one I learned how to use my ATC in guide mode on my harness to jumar/self belay back up to one of the stuck points where we greedily tried to link two rappels that seemed clean and straight enough. Actually, between this climb and Pingora, we actually spend more time during the day rappelling than climbing :-P

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Overhanging Tower from the OT-WH Col.

At last we were at the col! No more rappels or traverses, just a straightforward walk down easy cl. 2 terrain with a climbers trail that faded in and out. Continuing along for the Cirque Traverse looked interesting, but that will have to wait for another trip and better weather. We hurried down to camp with just over an hour before sunset, which allowed us an early night to bed to be up refreshed and early again, this time to climb the NE Face of Pingora.

For both climbs we only brought a single rack of cams up to a #4 Camalot. You could get by with up to a #3 Camalot, but we already had the #4 for some other climbs, and it made things a little more chill. Thin cams or offset nuts could be helpful for the K-Cracks variation of the South Buttress.

The East Ridge of Wolf's Head is moderately long, but fairly complex, so route descriptions can get confusing and standard topos aren't too helpful. However, RPC (on SummitPost) made an outstanding topo plan of the route, illustrating the route AND descent. We found this to be extremely helpful and really all that we needed for the climb.

Personal Website
Photo Album Links:
2012-08-18to19 - CoT w Thomas Bukowski - Drive and Approach
2012-08-20 - CoT w Thomas - S Butt of Pingora (II, 5.8) and E Ridge of Wolfs Head (III, 5.6)

Other Cirque of the Tower Trip Reports:
Pingora (NE Face)
War Path on Warbonnet, NE Face, Left

  Trip Report Views: 10,561
About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Jan 6, 2014 - 02:04am PT
Outstanding report, as usual!

When I did Wolfshead thirty years ago (no guidebook, topo, etc---how can you go wrong---just follow the ridge), we ended up going around the South side of at least one of the towers that are "supposed" to be passed on the North side, for example

I think this might have been at the first tower, since I don't recall the "squeeze between the First Tower split to the north side." Then again, there are quite a few things I don't recall...

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 5, 2014 - 05:05pm PT
RGold, I love those "choose your own adventure" type of routes. Ridges and aretes seem to be the best. I found a few nice ones last summer! Thanks for sharing :-)

Social climber
  Jan 5, 2014 - 05:46pm PT
Dooood!! That's my trip for this next Aug/Sept. How do you do it?? Oh yea, you're single with no kids.... Another great TR.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jan 5, 2014 - 05:50pm PT
I love that place, that's quite a day to link the two!!!

Glad the weather didn't turn worse!!!!
Good on ya!'

Trad climber
Montuckyian Via Canada Eh!
  Jan 5, 2014 - 05:59pm PT
Nice, great pics...Thanx a lot for sharing.....


Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Jan 5, 2014 - 09:32pm PT
Pellucid quality climbing information.

Thanks again!

Trad climber
  Jan 5, 2014 - 09:46pm PT
Thanks for sharing! I love getting my heart rate up from the comfort of my favorite leather chair, and your fine pics did just that.

  Jan 5, 2014 - 11:14pm PT
Excellent! Looks like brilliant climbing- Is there ways to downclimb the raps?

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Jan 5, 2014 - 11:18pm PT
They seem reasonable enough to downclimb . . . at least most of them. Or there is always the option to ridge climb longer and stay on the crest as you head towards Overhanging Tower. That section looks fun :-)

  Jan 16, 2014 - 03:50am PT
Thanks for the reply PW, looks like such a stellar place.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Jan 16, 2014 - 09:29am PT

Hey, rgold---great shot! Big air.

lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Jan 16, 2014 - 11:51am PT
Stellar, as usual. Thanks
Inner City

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Jan 16, 2014 - 02:23pm PT
What a nice trip report. Thanks Pellucid.

I enjoyed both of those routes with my wife some years ago. The exposure on Wolf's Head really was difficult for her to handle.

Fellow Berkeleyan...

Trad climber
  Jan 16, 2014 - 06:25pm PT
I have done the link-up starting with Pingora, Tiger Tower, Wolf's Head, Overhanging Tower, Sharks Nose and Block Tower. It would be cool to include the Warrior's and Warbonnet for a long day enchainment.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jan 16, 2014 - 06:35pm PT
Soooo tasty. This is as good as soft core alpinism gets. Right up my alley. Can't wait to get on that stuff some day! Thanks for your tireless stoke with these trip reports.


Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Feb 1, 2014 - 01:35pm PT
Happy to share the stoke! As I've had a chance to wander around more, I've come across some alpine climbing areas where I'd call it 'alpine cragging', or perhaps more accurately 'Type I Fun Alpine Cragging' (as I consider a lot of climbs in the Sierra alpine cragging, but are more in the Type II fun category).

Along those lines, I'd say Cirque of the Towers and the Bugaboos both loom large in my mind of 'must-visit' Type I fun alpine cragging places. Both are great in their own ways, although Cirque of the Towers probably has better weather (though more consistent bad afternoon conditions), and more flexibility for casual hiking and scrambling in addition to rock climbing.

The Bugaboos have a real 'wow' impression with the striking granite walls rising out of the rugged glaciers (most of which have easy passage to where you want to go), but Cirque of the Towers, while not as large or rugged, has a real nice feel with the alpine meadows and more intimate feeling with the surrounding peaks. Bugaboos has a more international feel to it, but also less backcountry due to the presence of the huts and a highly developed backcountry campground and many use restrictions and some fees. The Cirque of the Towers, while getting more crowded, still feels more wild.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Feb 1, 2014 - 02:43pm PT

Trad climber
  Feb 5, 2014 - 01:38pm PT
Mark is underrepresenting the "micro cell" that passed through while we were climbing Wolf's Head.. thunder every 5 minutes for 2 hours, by the time I got to the belay cave at P7 and it started hailing, I was just about ready to crap my pants. "Maybe today is the day I die from a lightning strike?"

  Feb 5, 2014 - 02:09pm PT
Thanks for the memories. Did my bachelor party on these routes. Much fun and did I mention the naked hippy chick sunbathing at the lake? We had guys just about fall off the rappels into the Tiger Tower notch. Good times!

Mountain climber
Draperderr, by Bangerter, Utah
Author's Reply  Feb 5, 2014 - 02:24pm PT
I was moderately concerned throughout the day, and constantly watching the sky, although the only time I was really worried was from just before to just after that arm traverse pitch where the smoke cleared to reveal bigger & closer clouds and a little bit of hail sprinkled, but by then we were beyond a retreat point that was any better than continuing forward, and it began clearing just after you finished following that pitch. Big lesson, in general, are that big ridge climbs are much slower to retreat from and as such should be treated with greater care than face climbs, or with a more Russian-Roulette attitude!

The unique problem to this one was that the thick smoke made it really hard to track the afternoon cloud development, and maybe we would have changed our minds after Tiger Tower if we could have seen the sky better. Weather in the Rockies (US & Canada) is always more threatening in the afternoon than the Sierra, and far more often just in small, short-lived storm cells, which is OK as long as they are far enough away and downwind, and you have occasional opportunities to hunker down or retreat. The weather forecasts also seem to not only have 30-40% POP more often, but to change a lot more day-by-day, so on any multi-day outing, you're really more reliant on watching the predictable afternoon building and aiming to be off early or at descent points at the right time if the cumulus clouds are growing tall enough. It definitely expands the gray area of risk in getting out with uncertain weather.

"Maybe today is the day I die from a lightning strike?"

Wait till your ice ax hums and your hair tingles up and down your entire body . . . or don't! I hope to never encounter a situation like that again! Bad luck on the Palisade Crest in 2009. ::shudder::

Half Dome Village
  Feb 5, 2014 - 03:13pm PT
Probably the craziest thunderstorm I've ever experienced was at the Cirque. We hiked out under blue skies and set up camp, then the next morning woke up to building clouds. It rained off and on throughout the day, which was a bummer because we were stoked to go climbing, but at least we got some epic photos at times when the clouds would part.

Then sometime in the middle of our second night it started storming hard. We were in the tent and the whole place would light up as bright as the middle of the day. I could have my eyes closed and I'd still see a bright red flash through my eyelids. Following a split second later would be a monstrous boom, so loud and forceful I could feel the sonic wave smacking me in the face. I thought we were going to wake up the next morning to find the mountains all blown to bits by the lightning, Pingora reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble. And the thing about being camped in middle of the Cirque is you get the full "surround sound" experience, as lightning strikes peaks on all sides of you and all within a half mile or so of your location.

Then the tent flooded with an inch of water, and we retreated to a small cave under a boulder which had stayed dry...

Trad climber
  Feb 5, 2014 - 06:45pm PT
Thanks for the great photos of Pingora and Wolfs Head in one of my very favorite playgrounds! First climbed Wolfs Head in 1970 and spent quite a bit of time there in that decade. I spent a month at Lonesome Lake in 72. We saw maybe 15 or 20 people in those 30 days. Climbed Wolfs Head in about every way I could think of naked, solo, as part of a film crew, and as a one man body recovery via helicopter deposit on Tiger Tower. The latter was one of the strangest experiences Ive had in the mountains.

But, as you say, PW, its an exquisite, enchanting area, and Wolfs Head is the most playful climb I know. As you're aware, its somewhat of a zoo these days. Im so grateful for the gifted time Ive had there!

Trad climber
  Feb 5, 2014 - 07:22pm PT
Mark man, keep livin' the life and sharing it with us!

Social climber
the astral plane
  Feb 6, 2014 - 10:31pm PT
Wow. Looks AMAZING. Been thinking about trips for this coming summer...
K. Hadfield

Sport climber
Durango, CO
  Feb 7, 2014 - 12:32pm PT
A possible tip for rappelling Pingora to Tiger Tower/Wolf's Head Once you scramble around and downclimb the 4th class portion to the ledge about 50 feet below summit of Pingora, you get a choice (I wish I had a picture). You can either rap straight off toward tiger tower or toward the west? face of Pingora. When I was up there, we chose west and rapped I believe just twice maybe three times, with one? 70m (looking at my pictures, we have only one rope) and pulling the rope was fine and clean. There was a janky piton and old HB offset anchor that we rapped to, which we updated with a proper/bomber nut and all new nylon on 8/2013. Perhaps this will help with the rope issues.


Trad climber
Central Coast
  Feb 26, 2014 - 12:08am PT
Sweet TR and way to go on busting a move out there and getting it done!
Gotta feel good about that! I have wanted to do these. Thanks!